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Open Access

This guide provides an introduction to Open Access, "the free, immediate, online availability of research articles combined with the rights to use these articles fully in the digital environment."

What is Open Access?

Open Access logoOpen Access is a publishing model that makes scholarly information freely available online without paywalls, subscriptions, or other barriers, and without most restrictions on re-use. Sometimes Open Access is used to refer to materials that are available at no cost, but in the strictest sense, Open Access materials should also be licensed for re-use, under Creative Commons or similar licenses.

Open sharing of research is as old as science, and sharing of publications on line goes back at least to the 1970s. The Budapest Open Access Initiative, issued in 2002, was one important early public statement that helped to propel the Open Access movement and to define Open Access practices.

This video provides an introduction to and background information on Open Access:

Why Open Access?

There are many reasons to support Open Access. Here are just a few:

Efficiency

Research and scholarship generates new knowledge by building on existing knowledge, and so removing barriers to access means more opportunities for more scholars and researchers to review and validate existing work and to create new knowledge based on that work. In this way, Open Access contributes to the advancement of science and human knowledge.

The COVID-19 emergency provided a demonstration of this principle, as publishers temporarily removed paywalls on coronavirus research, recognizing that removing restrictions to access would lead to faster progress in fighting the pandemic.

Equity

Access to scholarship and particularly scientific research is expensive. Under subscription models, a researcher's access to the literature often depends on the resources of the institution with which they are affiliated. This leads to inequitable access for researchers at less well-resourced institutions, particularly those in the developing world. With Open Access, all researchers have access to the literature, regardless of their affiliation.

Another equity concern relates to the funding of research. A great deal of scientific research is funded through tax dollars, and a significant proportion is conducted by researchers at public universities who are paid at least in part through tax dollars. Subscription access to research output means taxpayers are paying yet again to get the results of research that they have substantially funded.

Impact

Removing barriers to access means articles can be more widely read and possibly more widely cited. Many studies have been done to see whether Open Access work enjoys a citation advantage, and results vary depending on the discpline and the type of Open Access. A majority find that there is a citation advantage at least in some disciplines.

Some example studies:

  • “Green, Gold, and Hybrid papers receive more views than their Closed or Bronze counterparts, particularly Green papers made available within a year of publication.”
    Piwowar, H., Priem, J., & Orr, R. (2019). The Future of OA: A large-scale analysis projecting Open Access publication and readership [Preprint]. Scientific Communication and Education. https://doi.org/10.1101/795310

  • “OA articles are more immediately recognized and cited by peers than non-OA articles published in the same journal. … OA is likely to benefit science by accelerating dissemination and uptake of research findings.”
    Eysenbach, G. (2006). Citation Advantage of Open Access Articles. PLOS Biology, 4(5). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.0040157

  • “64 studies (47.8%) confirmed the existence of OACA, while 37 (27.6%) found that it did not exist, 32 (23.9%) found OACA only in subsets of their sample, and 1 study (0.8%) was inconclusive.”
    Langham-Putrow, A., Bakker, C., & Riegelman, A. (2021). Is the open access citation advantage real? A systematic review of the citation of open access and subscription-based articles. PLOS ONE, 16(6). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0253129